Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia and Kansas Meet With the Top Spot in the Big 12 Basketball Conference Up For Grabs

After defeating Kansas on its last two trips to Morgantown, West Virginia figures to have the number one-ranked Jayhawks' full attention in the marquee match-up of Tuesday night in the WVU Coliseum.

SCOUTING THE JAYHAWKS

 Kansas shoots it well. Defends other teams well. Passes it well. In all, it's a legitimate threat for a national championship, not to mention a 12th consecutive Big 12 title. That number would be one short of the all-time record set by UCLA, and appears to be very much within the Jayhawks' reach.

Kansas starts four players with the ability to score, and a fifth that has filled a role after moving into the starting lineup eight games ago. Senior forward Perry Ellis (6-8, 225 lbs.) is the quintessential do-everything guy up front, averaging 16 points and nearly seven rebounds per game. He can score from the post to the perimeter, and is a major reason that the Jayhawks rarely get flustered. He’s ably backed in both the poise and productivity departments by junior guards Frank Mason (5-11, 185 lbs.) and Wayne Selden (6-5, 230 lbs.). That duo, like Ellis, has seen just about every situation there is on the court. Mason runs the offense but still finds time to toss in 13.5 points per outing, while Selden shoots an astounding 53% to add 15.5 points per contest. He also moves the ball well, checking in with 3.1 assists per game.

Completing the starting lineup are sophomore guard Devonte’ Graham (6-2, 175 lbs.) who averages 10.8 points, and forward Hunter Mickelson (Sr., 6-10, 245 lbs.), who fills the dirty work role inside. The Jayhawks have the luxury of bringing senior Jamari Traylor (6-8, 220 lbs.), a sometime starter, off the bench, from where he contributes 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. They also have been able to bring a pair of outstanding freshmen, Cheick Diallo (6-9, 220 lbs.) and Carlton Bragg (6-9, 220 lbs.), along slowly. That duo would be starters for most other teams, but at KU they have been able to move slowly into the rotation, which features 11 players averaging at least 8.9 minutes per game. Brannen Greene (6-7, 215 lbs.) is the most productive of those subs, adding 8.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per outing to the cause, but up and down the lineup are players who understand their roles and fill them well.

While numbers pop out all over the Kansas stat sheet, two stand out. As a team, KU hits an incredible 45.9% of their 3-point shots, which attests not only to its skill level but also to its shot selection and ball movement. They attack the hoop in a variety of ways, but there’s always the threat of a three – six of the 11 players in the rotation average at least 37.5% from distance, and five hit at least 40.5%. Second, Kansas has 99 more assists than turnovers -- another testament to their passing ability and care with the rock. Built on those twin foundations, their offensive efficiency typically wilts opposing defenses.

GAME OUTLOOK

It's long been our contention that previous games in a series, especially those that occur in past years, have little effect on the current match-up.

WVU (14-1/3-0) vs. KU (14-1/3-0) Tue Jan 12 7:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: KU 4-2
RPI: WVU – 26 KU - 3 TV: ESPN2 Sirius\XM: 134/199

Certainly, it's fun to note winning streaks or other oddities in a particular series, but most of the time, those past games have little effect on the next game. Sure, a particularly contentious game followed by a rematch soon thereafter might include some carryover effect, but does last year, or the year before, really stretch that far?

On the theory that there's an exception to every rule, we're going to say yes on this one. WVU has beaten the Jayhawks on their last two visits to Morgantown, and while the makeups of the teams are different, the holdover guys, not to mention head coach Bill Self, have to have that in the back of their minds as they try to get their first win in the state since 2013. Will that make more shots go in for the Jayhawks? Probably not, but West Virginia isn't going to sneak up on them, either. Expect high levels of focus and intensity from the visitors. On the flip side, WVU has to feel like it gave away a chance for a rare win in Lawrence in 2015, so maybe there’s a reverse angle to the redemption discussion. The Mountaineers led by 18 points at Allen Field House before losing in overtime.

Kansas leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, while West Virginia is second defensively against such shots. While intriguing battles abound in this game, that's a huge stat to watch. WVU has improved markedly this year in covering the three, and it has faced some teams that shoot it well from distance. However, it hasn't seen a squad with the ability to play inside out as effectively as the Jayhawks do, so it can't make mistakes as it fans out to cover shooters. KU also won't back the ball out if it beats the press – its lineup is filled with players who can drive the ball and score if given a pathway. That makes West Virginia's recovery from its pressure game even more important than normal.

Another match-up to keep an eye on is West Virginia's defensive strategy against Perry Ellis. Will the Mountaineers put Devin Williams on him, or will they assign Jonathan Holton, and leave Williams on less mobile Hunter Mickelson? The latter seems more likely, as Holton is better equipped to move with Ellis, but the Jayhawk will have an advantage in the post against the Mountaineer, who isn't a shot blocker. If Ellis reaches his league averages of nearly 20 points and ten rebounds per game, KU will have a very good chance of recording the win.

PRESS POINTS

West Virginia’s rebounding prowess will be tested by Kansas, which also retrieves the ball off the glass well. WVU outboards its foes by more than 12 per game, while Kansas holds a nearly six rebound per contest edge. Will the Mountaineers be able to build that margin on the strength of its offensive rebounding, as it does in so many games? KU rebounds well up and down the lineup, so there’s no one weak area for WVU to take advantage of.


West Virginia has allowed its opponent to shoot 50 percent or better only 49 times under Bob Huggins (291 games). That’s an enviable mark. However, KU one-ups it, having held 295 of its last 307 opponents under 50 percent shooting, including every opponent so far this year.


WVU is holding its opponents to 0.85 points per possession, the second lowest rate in the country behind Purdue (0.83). This will be a critical number to watch against the Jayhawks’ efficient offense, which is 12th nationally with a 1.15 points per possession mark.


Kansas is 3-0 in Big 12 play for the 19th time in the 20-year history of the conference. The only non-3-0 league record for KU was a 1-0 start in 2005-06. Kansas is the only league team to have posted an undefeated Big 12 record, going 16-0 in 2001-02.


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